OSM: Block Island
4:53 pm
Sat September 8, 2012

One Square Mile: Justin Lewis takes the baton

Providence, RI – Over the last 40 years or so, residents of Block Island have worked to conserve nearly half of the island. But there's still more work to do. So Justin Lewis who is continuing the effort. Lewis is in his thirties, and a surfer. But he's also the next generation of a family that's synonymous with conservation on the island.

You could say the Lewis family on Block Island is to conservation as the Chafee family to politics. It's the family business. The late Rob Lewis founded the Block Island Conservancy. He's famous for saving 37 acres of Rodman's Hollow in 1972, among many other projects throughout his life. His sons, Keith and David took up the torch, too. While many have worked to conserve life on the island, the Lewis family is a big reason why 43.59% of the island is conserved open space.

"It's certainly a name that is widely known on the island and garners a lot of respect. So there's a lot of pride with being a Lewis."

And that is Justin Lewis. He's better known to older generations on the island as Dave's son, or Rob's grandson. The Block Island Conservancy asked him to work on a conservation effort that's been problematic for generations. It's known as the Solviken property.

Justin says it's named after a former restaurant that prepared some good Swedish meatballs. It closed in the late 60s it sat dormant and it has ever since."

Lewis stands smack dab in the center of the property. It's a tiny isthmus of land not far from downtown. It consist of only an acre of so of space. That said it's some pretty prime real estate.

There's always that thing where people say, like, "Oh it's just a stone's throw away from the beach." But you could actually huck a stone and hit water from this property.

"Yep," he answers. "On both sides. There's a whole other body of water right here. The Atlantic on one side and the great salt pond on the other. And they're both important reasons to preserve this property. As far as access and ecology."

Let's take a step-back for a moment: Members of the Block Island Conservancy talk about this larger--if unwritten-- goal to conserve half of the land on this island. But getting the last 7% might be harder that the previous 43. Land plots are smaller and the price per acre is soaring. So Justin says each project is weighed carefully. He knows some people question the effort to save the Solviken property. Purchasing the final plot of land costs $700,000. And it would only get the conservancy a tenth of a percent closer to its goal.

"Part of this campaign is aimed at showcasing the conservation efforts of the local islanders that have occurred in the past and occur today," he says.

Lewis looks out at the Atlantic Ocean. For him, it's a place that has meaning to him. Memories. He parks his truck here and surfs on the nearby waves. And he says that personal connection to the land, no matter where it is on Block Island, is a big reason why the whole conservation effort on the island took off in the first place.

"My grandfather and his friends in 1972 did start the Block Island conservancy because a piece of property they valued was under threat of development," he says. "They were successful. And that has been passed down through the generations I suppose."

Lewis knows he has big shoes to fill. But he says saving the Solviken property would be another big step forward.

For more information, head to the Block Island Conservancy's Website.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@ripr.org.

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